Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/66

This page has been validated.
56
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

feet nine inches (girth measurements alone need be given) one hundred and ten years later. Dr. Uvedale's cedar, planted at Enfield not earlier than 1670, was fifteen feet eight inches when measured in 1835, i. e., one hundred and sixty-five years afterward. And the large cedar at Uxbridge, which was blown down in 1790, was one hundred and eighteen years old when Gilpin measured it in 1776, and found it to be fifteen feet and a half. We should therefore be justified in assuming twelve feet as the possible first century's growth of a cedar even in England; whence we may test the probability of the oldest cedars now on Mount Lebanon having been growing there in the days of King Solomon. In the year 1696 the traveler Maundrell measured one of the largest of them and found it to be twelve yards six inches. Four feet a century being the average rate, the cedar measured by Maundrell would have required only nine centuries to have attained its dimensions of thirty-six feet; so that it need have been no older than the time of Charlemagne, and, allowing for a more rapid growth on a site where it is indigenous, may probably have been considerably younger.

From the claims to antiquity of the cedars of Lebanon let us pass to those of the Tortworth Spanish chestnut in Gloucestershire, which sometimes boasts to be the oldest tree in England, and bears an inscription to the effect that King John held a Parliament beneath it.[1] Sir Robert Atkyns, whose history of that county was published in 1712, usually bears the responsibility of connecting the tree with King John; but he only speaks of it as said by tradition "to have been growing there in the reign of King John. It is nineteen yards in compass, and seems to be several trees incorporated together, and young ones are still growing up which may in time be joined to the old body." It was also probably on hearsay evidence that Evelyn spoke of it as standing on record that a chestnut (at Tamworth) formed a boundary tree in the reign of Stephen. We may assume Evelyn to have meant the tree in question; we may pass the hesitation of tradition between two kings not remote from one another in time; and we may accept fifty-seven feet as the maximum measurement, though no subsequent measurement gives so high dimensions. Now, that a chestnut may attain seventeen feet in its first century is proved by the fact that a chestnut at Nettlecombe, planted within the recollection, and therefore within the life, of Sir John Trevelyan, who died in 1828, was over seventeen feet.[2] But we may be content with fifteen feet for the first century. Then, on the principle of the third as the average, we should require a period of eleven centuries for fifty-seven feet; but that this average would be too low is evident from the fact that in seventy-one years—i. e., between 1766 and 1837—it was proved to have increased two feet in girth. Therefore we should have a diminishing series be-

  1. Jesse, "Gleanings in Natural History," i, 341.
  2. Selby, "Forest Trees," 334 (1842).